WOMAN IN MIND
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th June, 2014
Susan (Meg Fraser) is living a middle-class nightmare. The love has gone from her marriage to vicar Gerald (Richard Conlon), her son hasn’t spoken to her since he joined some kind of sect in Hemel Hempstead, and her sister-in-law is slowly poisoning them all with her atrocious cooking. When she wakes from a bump on the head, Susan gets to sample a different life, with an idyllic family, sexy husband (Andrew Wincott) and grounds to an estate that goes on for miles… Susan is increasingly confused: which is real?
Marilyn Imrie directs Alan Ayckbourn’s comic drama so that Susan’s confusion doesn’t translate to our enjoyment. We see hallucinated characters react to Susan’s real life family, and it’s gloriously funny. Thanks to a powerhouse of a central performance from Meg Fraser, Susan’s tragedy is also apparent. The blending of real and hallucinated is supported by Ti Green’s impressive set, which houses Susan’s real garden in a dreamlike landscape of tree trunks and a suspended box on which projections are made and in which characters from Susan’s imagination appear, along with some atmospheric music composed by Pippa Murphy.
Fraser is supported by a strong ensemble. Richard Conlon makes a fine comedy vicar and infuriating husband, while Neil McKinven as the doctor, bridges the gap between the real and the imagined. Irene Macdougall is good value as sister-in-law Muriel, and Scott Hoatson brings sensitivity to selfish son Rick.
In Ayckbourn’s assured hands, the sitcom-ness of Susan’s home life is transformed into a tragic-comedy of a woman’s decline into mental illness. It’s Fraser’s performance that dominates and impresses in a production that never falls short of entertaining – as Susan’s mental state unravels, the more we feel for her.
A co-production between the REP and Dundee Rep Ensemble, Woman in Mind continues the Birmingham theatres run of excellent productions, and demonstrates yet again why Ayckbourn is one of our most important playwrights.